§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ioan L. Evans.]
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will hon. Members leave the Chamber quickly and quietly? They may have an Adjournment themselves one day.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am glad to have this opportunity to raise the question of industrial development in North-East Scotland. I have a series of wide ranging topics to discuss, but first it is fair for me to say how grateful my constituents and everyone in North-East Scotland are to the Government for the tremendous emphasis which they have put on regional development since 1964. The very fact that I am speaking in the House tonight is in a way a measure of that gratitude, since I am the first member of the Labour Party to be returned for Aberdeen, South.
We have indeed much to be thankful for. In the City of Aberdeen the unemployment rate is as low as 1.6 per cent., and if one reads the current issue of the Scottish Digest of Statistics one sees that that is the second lowest unemployment rate for the 29 Scottish development districts that are listed. For the second year in succession, too, we have had a marginal but, nevertheless, reassuring increase in the total number of people employed in the area.
I need not remind the House that for a very long period the Administration was willing, despite the persistent problems of the national economy which forced the imposition of economic squeezes with unfortunate implications for the country as a whole, to shelter the regions from the worst effects. The people who live in my constituency and in the North-East of Scotland generally are, therefore, grateful for the improvement that has been made and above all for the establishment of the North-East Consultative Group.
1840 This has an enormously important rôle to play in co-ordinating both national and local effort to combat our difficulties in North-East Scotland. I dissociate myself at once from those organisations and people who have been ove-eager and over-early at sniping at a group that has hardly had time to establish itself or prove its value, but which will have a tremendous part to play.
It is still, however, fair to say that we have an unfortunate situation in a high amenity area that has not been successful in attracting its fair share of the industry coming into Scotland. In the North-East we still have very high emigration, aggravated by a low wage structure which makes the north-east area a happy hunting ground for marauding expeditions from the more prosperous districts of England.
It has been fashionable in the past to say that one of the reasons for this, perhaps the main reason, is that the people there have not stirred themselves; that they have not been enthusiastic, and that the local authorities, chambers of commerce, and the rest, have not set themselves out to attract industry into the area. In fact, on 29th January, 1966, the Economist was complacently saying:Aberdeen is comfortable as it is and does not want to develop.That is not true of Aberdeen, and it is not true of the North-East as a whole. I am convinced from my own experience that whatever may have been the case in the past—and I suspect that this kind of judgment was never valid—at the moment all organisations, whether statutory or voluntary, are anxious to persuade, cajole or, to be frank, even bully any firm showing the slightest interest in settling there. The notable amenities, particularly in terms of education and in particular the outstanding pupil-teacher ratio which we can offer, are a tribute indeed to the enlightened administration of successive local councils in Aberdeen.
The north-east area has been the subject of a very detailed and valuable study, to be found in the White Paper on the Scottish Economy, but the area studied is an artificial one because it includes not only Aberdeen but Dundee. I would argue that Dundee is only comparable with Aberdeen in terms of population. Dundee is a city with a heavy industrial 1841 tradition, without an agricultural hinterland in the sense Aberdeen has one. It is a city that has been dragged more and more into the Scottish central belt, a trend that I believe will continue with the completion of the Tay Road Bridge—a kind of umbilical cord between Dundee and the central Scottish area.
As I say, the area was artificial and, therefore, not surprisingly a considerable imbalance was very startlingly highlighted in the north-east study in the White Paper. I have not time to deal with detailed statistics, but I can give a few quotations from the White Paper. We are told in page 51:Much the heaviest net emigration from the North-East comes from the Aberdeen Area … post-war development has been slow—particularly in Aberdeen itself.Giver, this very static economy, opportunities for employment and enterprise are in most places narrow … There is little to suggest present trends will not continue, or even accelerate.This happy little packet was starkly summed up in page 120, where we read:It would be reasonable to expect from present trends a continuing substantial population decline in the Aberdeen Area …It is against that background of very worrying long-term trends, admirably set out in that Government survey, that I want to speak.
We have recently had announced a plan for a very detailed inquiry into the feasibility of concentrating population growth in the Dundee area. No one objects to that. I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a question on 27th July, and was told that this was approved by the Scottish Economic Planning Council as the logical implementation of its plans. I concede that the White Paper says that Dundee:… with Perth and the towns of Strathmore and the coast forms the centre of a potential modern city region".It also said, however, that a modern city region should have a population of about one-quarter of a million, but I have been alarmed by reasonably well-informed Press speculation that those concerned are thinking of concentrating on a population of three-quarters of a million in that area, while the Guardian has talked of a population of a million and upwards in the next thirty years. I should like my hon. Friend to comment on this in 1842 view of the long-term plans announced for other parts of Scotland.
On Tuesday night, the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Peebles and Selkirk (Mr. David Steel) reminded us that there would be 25,000 more people in the Galashiels area, that Berwick also would be built up, and that we are often reminded the central belt will draw a very much larger population from the regions again, Inverness is to be extended and Professor Grieve and the Highland Development Board have spoken about a settlement of 500,000 on the Moray Firth in a complex around Invergordon. We are entitled to some reassurance that there will be no distortion, however unintentional, of the Government's plans to spread development fairly and evenly throughout the country and that there will be no victimisation of areas, which have not been fortunate enough to be chosen for this expansion.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Angus and Mearns)
I agree very much with everything the hon. Member has said, but is he aware that my hon. Friends the Members for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) and South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) endeavoured to have a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to discuss this matter and so far it has not been granted?
§ Mr. Dewar
I cannot comment on other hon. Members activities. I shall be very interested to hear the outcome of any such meeting. I also look forward to the comments tonight from my hon. Friend on the Front Bench.
I move to the aspect of what we can do in the North-East. Regional development in Scotland has been almost overwritten. I have before me the latest pamphlet, "Scottish Economic Planning and the attraction of Industry" by Cameron & Reid, published by the University of Glasgow Social & Economic Studies Department as Occasional Papers No. 6. This is an interesting pamphlet which discusses why certain firms did not come to Scotland. The question they ask is not why but why not. The most important reason which militated against their coming to Scotland was given as the geographical location and transport costs. I know the Toothill Committee 1843 argued that these were marginal, but marginal considerations count when this kind of decision is being taken. It may be true if one has a great number of low bulk high value products, but the evidence is now overwhelming that firms are put off by locations which are not within easy day to day travel from headquarters or where they find that finished articles or components have to be moved back to markets or assembly plants respectively. This constitutes a very important barrier to areas such as the north-east.
I hope that my hon. Friend will give very serious consideration to the communications between the north-east of Scotland and the rest of the country. Upstairs a Bill has been mysteriously and interminably winding its way through Committee, and it now emerges that we are to have a new road classification: principal and other roads. The A94, which has never been a trunk road, and the A92 will, I hope, be classed as principal roads and, thus dignified, greatly improved. These are at present sad apologies for main arterial highways. I hope that this will be given consideration. I am tired of hearing people saying that there is not the traffic to justify it—a nasty circular argument when in fact there are not the roads to encourage firms to go north and generate the traffic. This is a problem which affects all parts of Scotland. It was claimed the other night in this House that there is not a decent road through the Borders, and we in the North-East could say the same.
I hope my hon. Friend will look very carefully at proposed rail closures. The transport users' consultative committee is studying the future of certain small lines which are a vital part of the infrastructure to the north of Aberdeen. They are also considering the Forfar—Coupar Angus stretch. I sincerely hope that these lines will not be sacrificed lightly. Above all I hope that we shall not have a situation whereby if that committee reports in favour of the line being retained unfortunate Scottish precedents will be recalled and it is overruled.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
The T.U.C.C. has already finished its sitting on this aspect and it is now in the hands of the Scottish Economic Development Committee.
§ Mr. Dewar
I do not think a decision of the Committee has yet been made public. To that extent we are officially in the dark, whatever information may by devious pipelines have come to the ear of my hon. Friend.
My final point concerns housing and advance factories. Advance factories are immensely important. I have always considered—I think that this will be generally accepted in the House—that it is no good offering an advance factory to a potential client, if I may so put it, unless that client can be offered decent facilities and decent amenities to go with the factory. It is no use saying to him, "Here is factory space", unless one can say at the same time, "Here is housing for your key workers", both in the private and the public sector.
I accept and concede that the disappointing record of the private sector in Scottish house building is something we may have to live with for some time, despite the commendable efforts of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. However, in the public sector we can do something. I hope that the North-East Consultative Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and the local authorities concerned, will put their heads together and work out some kind of concerted programme which will in fact allow a certain proportion of the public sector of north-east housing to be earmarked and laid aside on offer to firms which are coming in and which need housing for their key workers.
I recognise, probably more than anyone else, what a very considerable sacrifice will be entailed here, because my mailbag is full of complaints from people who are badly housed and overcrowded in Aberdeen, which has, of course, an enormous waiting list. It would be a considerable sacrifice to give up part of one's annual building for this purpose, but it is a sacrifice which must be made if we are seriously to talk about getting industry into the area.
I hope that this plan will be drawn up. I hope that this allocation will be made. I hope that it will be supported by the Government, using the Scottish Special Housing Association, as they have promised in the past and as I think is in fact promised in the White Paper, because, without this kind of planning, 1845 we shall not succeed in combating the trends about which we are talking.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is happening at the moment—for example, in my constituency, where there is the promise of great additional expansion of employment? The Scottish Special Housing Association is coming in to help the local authority to provide a large number of houses, not only for key workers, but a large amount of the extra houses which will be needed.
§ Mr. Dewar
I readily accept that point. There have been examples even before that one. Peterhead is one, where this kind of allocation has been carried out with brilliant success. Although there are some examples, generally speaking it has not been done. There is an understandable reluctance on the part of local councillors to make this sacrifice, because it represents a real cut back in the housing available in their own urban areas. There is much work to be done in this field. It must be pushed ahead and I believe that the impetus must come to a large extent from central government.
I am concerned not only about housing, but there is the question of advance factories. In Aberdeen there are two industrial estates, one at Moss trick and the other at West Tullos. I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give me a few details about the situation, because we have been given a promise in the White Paper that further land will be taken for expansion in the Aberdeen area. Has this been done? If not, why not? If it has not been done, is it because there is spare factory space lying unused at the moment in Aberdeen. If there is not, has it been easy in the past to let space? One of the noticeable things I find on going around Mosstrick is the very large number of unproductive units—various depots, stores and even one cash and carry establishment which all adds weight to the very plausible argument which has been advanced, namely, that in Aberdeen if the Selective Employment Tax had been introduced in, say, 1960, there would have been more premiums paid into the area then than there will be when the tax comes into operation in a short time. In passing may I say that while I accept the logic of the Selective 1846 Employment Tax in notional terms, and although I do not accept many of the wildly exaggerated alarms which have been sounded by hon. Members opposite, I hope that the very brave, definite and well-justified words which have been uttered by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench about the regional variation possibilities of this tax will be fearlessly brought into play if any of these much heralded disadvantages materialise and can be seen to have materialised. There is a lot of panic over the tax, but I still think that it is a situation which must be carefully watched. I hope that the Government will continue their fine record in regard to looking to the interests of regional areas if unfortunately it is necessary to take action in this respect.
I should like my hon. Friend to reassure me on these points. I am not gloomy about the future of the North-East of Scotland. I do not accept the final judgment of the Glasgow University survey when it said that the regions have not attracted many migrant companies in the past and are not likely to do so in the future. I do not think that as the authors suggest the regions stand in relation to Central Scotland as Scotland does to the prosperous industrial areas of England although obviously there are trends to be watched and clearly the structure of industrial growth will be different from that in the central belt.
I am not asking—I do not think anyone in the North-East of Scotland would—for special differentials to mark it off from other development districts. This protection is dangerous and meaningless. I do not ask at this stage or in the for-seeable future the Government to come in and not only build advance factories but operate them, although this idea has a very respectable history in Scottish Labour Party thought. But we can do a great deal more in terms of co-operation between local authorities and the central Government to give the zoom and drive that will get development in the area off the ground. If we get that cooperation and marry it to the new enthusiasm in the area for regional development policies, we shall enjoy the prosperity in North-East Scotland that the area deserves and get the kind of industrial superstructure that I think it can support.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) for raising this subject. It is characteristic of him that he has chosen to talk of the welfare of not just the city of Aberdeen but the whole of North-East Scotland. I welcome his comments and the opportunity to contribute a little to the discussion of the subject of the Tayside study as well as make a comment about Inverness.
I am glad that my hon. Friend did not pose Tayside and Inverness as being rivals to the position of the North-East. The White Paper Cmnd. 2864 shows the options, based on facts, that were open to the Government. My hon. Friend quoted one part of the north-east study. He should look at the statement of policy in paragraph 207. I remember a speaker at Glasgow University who spoke of the conclusions on which he based his facts. These are the Government's conclusions of policy, the choices, the options that we have taken with regard to the facts contained in the studies.
One of the wisest things done by the Secretary of State—he regrets that he cannot be here; my hon. Friend understands why—was to take care to publish all the studies with the policy statement. That was not a commitment of the previous Government. Neither was there a commitment not to publish though; I am not saying that the previous Government would not have published this. But the studies have been published with the White Paper.
With regard to my hon. Friend's quotation about Aberdeen, it is true that the Government could have opted not to see a rise in population within 10 years of 20,000—that is said in paragraph 207—but they did. In discussing the figures in regard to Tayside one has to recognise the difference in time scale. I have seen comments about Tayside in various newspapers—not that all the comments are accurate, by the way, though that is not unexpected in our life. Figures have been suggested, including the large one which appeared in the Guardian, which have rather been drawn on the time scale of the end of this century. But here we are talking in terms of 10 years for the 1848 North-East of Scotland. There is a very good reason for that.
The position of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Banff—the whole of the North-East area—is very different from that of Dundee and Tayside. Dundee has had a better start for several reasons. Some might point to the higher degree of unemployment in Dundee. Aberdeen has had its unemployment, but Dundee has always been the worse of the two.
Immense problems face the city, which has been dependent—perhaps for too long—on one great industry. But it is changing. I shall not go into all the reasons as to why Dundee has had a better start and is at a different stage of development in attracting industry. That is why one takes the short-term view of Aberdeen's position and hopes that, within the ten years, we can reduce migration and see a build-up of about 20,000 in the population of the area.
What is quite clear is that the dominant problem of the North-East is migration. It is heavier from there than from any other part of the country, except for West-Central Scotland. But the idea that the central belt is a magnet for people in the North-East is an illusion. Statistics show that the majority of people emigrating from the North-East do not go to other parts of Scotland but overseas or to England.
The reasons are clear from the Study. Allied to this heavy migration is a very static economy, still heavily slanted to agriculture and fishing, while manufacturing is only lightly represented. Of course it is true that there are social problems in the North-East and housing is outstanding among them. Many young people leave because their place in the council house queue is so far down the list. When others have been in the queue so long it is a little difficult for an area seeking to attract industry, for it must be willing, by definition, to provide houses for the in-comers, the Sassenachs and perhaps even for "foreigners", depending on one's view.
That is why the greatest thing to be done, and done quickly, is to improve the housing situation both in the city and in the counties. I am grateful that the local authorities have been coming to recognise this. There is a remarkable change in their programmes compared 1849 with those before 1964 and in what they are willing to do. Once these programmes get into full swing we shall see the attitude of the local authorities much more warm and responsive to the idea of providing key workers with houses.
§ Mr. James Davidson
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that just as important as improved housing in the area are improved transport facilities and cheaper fuel and power?
§ Dr. Mabon
I do not deny those comments, but I have only a short time and I am trying to cover a lot of ground.
One of the drawbacks of the North-East has been the inability of the local authorities to help provide housing for in-coming people. But Dundee has been very good in this respect, as have other areas. I am not suggesting they are rivals. But if there is a good pool of houses and the local authority is willing to give key workers houses and call for assistance from the Government, we get a better response.
There is no doubt that, in the North-East area, the success story is that of Peterhead, a small town of 12,000 population whose traditional industry was fishing but which has nevertheless managed to take quite remarkable steps in bringing new industry to the town. I readily admit that this has not been because of Government initiative but because the local people were willing to make an effort. Recently, five firms discussed plans with the burgh council, which said that it was willing to build 100 houses for industrial workers living in unsatisfactory conditions. These people are the potential migrants the local authority is concerned not to lose. The Government matched this by a decision to build 200 houses through the S.S.H.A. These are for incoming industrial workers. What is happening in Peterhead can happen elsewhere. We are willing to match the efforts of local authorities through enlarged S.S.H.A. programmes, contained in the Bill which 1850 is to be discussed after the Summer Recess.
I now turn to deal with communications. I do not accept that one can argue the case on one's particular area. One has to look at Scotland as a whole. The main trunk arteries to the South are as important to Aberdeen as to Glasgow. The development of the A74, and the motorway between Edinburgh and Perth is vital to the development of Aberdeen. I do not want to be tempted into discussing A92 and A94 except to say that I recognise that one is a Class One road and the other a trunk road, and it arguable which ought to be which. We will try to sort this out. I notice that there is no demand for two trunk roads.
It is important in selecting the right road, to realise that it is on the road on which priorities will be emphasised for the development of better communications. I am glad to note that the opening of the liner train terminal in Aberdeen is now planned for October, and will give the area swifter and more reliable rail freight service than ever before. Aberdeen also now enjoys the advantage of a direct two-way air link with London.
I am glad that my hon. Friend referred to the work done by Cameron and Reid at Glasgow University on the reasons why a number of mobile firms did not choose Scotland as a location. One point which the report dealt with was the position of labour. Everyone is agreed that the quality of Labour in Aberdeen is exceptionally high, and it could be a real selling point. I believe that the kind of discussions going on through the Consultative Group, one of the first to be formed and which has among it some of the most distinguished of Scots, including the Chairman——
§ The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.